“So what do you do?” That little chilly tingle slips down my spine as I reluctantly turn to smile at the person standing next to me. I always hope that they’re going to be so interested in what my husband does for a job that they’re going to forget about asking me.
If it wasn’t that question, it would be another. “Where did you go to university?” Maybe they’ll ask that one too.
When I cut it back to the absolute truth, the answers are really simple. I don’t and I didn’t.
I’ve never had the guts to be that direct with anyone, although there have been many times when I have been so weary of trying to make my words paint a picture that doesn’t exist, that I long to scream those words and run from the room. Back to hide in my own space where I (almost always) understand me and my history and don’t have to feel like the freak show. Again.
With most people, I have no intention of giving the reasons behind my lack of current job or why I didn’t go to uni and what kept me living with my parents until I was 21. It isn’t something they need to know (even if they think they should) and I’m not going to tell my story to just anyone. But that doesn’t stop the curious looks – and sometimes the curious questions too. And it doesn’t stop me feeling like the outsider … like a pair of jeans in a Christian homeschooled girl’s wardrobe.
There are people who I want to understand me. I care about their opinion and I want to be a part of their lives. Those people for whom a polite half-truth just won’t do. Those people who have become close enough to see through the self I present to everyone else. Their questions come from a place of caring and love, from wanting to really understand because they want to understand me and the experiences that have brought me to where I am now.
But how do I explain, even to an honestly caring friend, a life experience that has so little in common with their own upbringing that it might as well have been from another era? A childhood that in part actually did come from another era?
How do I explain why I obeyed and even at times furvently pursued the very controls that I then ran away from? How do I show them that the headscarf-wearing, Christmas-is-evil spouting, who-was-Bart-Simpson girl is the same as the let-women-preach, why-can’t-gays-be-Christians, nose-pierced, Iron-Maiden-listening women they see in front of them?
How can I explain why maxi-dresses make me feel stupid and ugly instead of pretty and fashionable? Why a sermon on the Old Testament stresses me out rather than fascinates me? Why someone enthusing about homemade bread and natural cleaners will have me rolling my eyes cynically instead of joining in the discussion?
How do I even begin to explain why PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), flashbacks and nightmares are a part of my everyday life? Why a talk about forgiveness would have me leaving in the middle of church and fighting tears all the way home? Why babysitting a toddler and watching their adorable innocence would make my thoughts so unbearable that I have to recite good memories to myself?
I haven’t found the answer yet. I don’t know how to explain these things. I don’t know how to explain that you can get debilitating culture shock from leaving your parents house. Or how a quote from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can make you laugh with glee and cry inside at the same time.
I read an article on Homeschoolers Anonymous the other day that explains why The Village is such an eerily good representation of some of our childhoods. It doesn’t get it all, but it goes a long way to allowing others a small moment of comprehension when viewing our lives.
I haven’t found the answer yet. But I haven’t given up. I’m searching for those words; trying to paint that picture. I don’t want you to hear my stories and say “you poor thing”; I want you to hear my stories and know that I am not the only one. I don’t want you to pity me; I want you to be there as an ear, a voice or a hand for the ones who are still living inside those woods of fear, however they were planted.